Bush Taps Skeptic of Buildup as 'War Czar'

By Peter Baker and Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, May 16, 2007

President Bush tapped Army Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute yesterday to serve as a new White House "war czar" overseeing the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, choosing a low-key soldier who privately expressed skepticism about sending more troops to Iraq during last winter's strategy review.

In the newly created position, Lute will coordinate often disjointed military and civilian operations and manage the Washington side of the same troop increase he resisted before Bush announced the plan in January. Bush hopes an empowered aide working in the White House and answering directly to him will be able to cut through bureaucracy that has hindered efforts in Iraq.

The selection capped a difficult recruitment process for the White House, as its initial candidates rejected the job. At least five retired four-star generals approached by the White House or intermediaries refused to be considered. Lute, a three-star general now serving as chief operations officer on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in effect will jump over many superiors as he moves to the West Wing and assumes authority to deal directly with Cabinet secretaries and top commanders.

"General Lute is a tremendously accomplished military leader who understands war and government and knows how to get things done," Bush said in a statement.

In choosing Lute, Bush picked a key internal voice of dissent during the administration review that led to the troop increase. Reflecting the views of other members of the Joint Chiefs, Lute argued that a short-term "surge" would do little good and that any sustained increase in forces had to be matched by equal emphasis on political and economic steps, according to officials informed about the deliberations.

Lute believed the situation in Iraq reflected the same mistakes as the ineffective and disorganized response to Hurricane Katrina, according to a source familiar with the debate. Like others at the Pentagon, he was also irked because civilian agencies, in his view, had not done nearly enough to help stabilize Iraq. And he was outspoken about the increasing strains on the U.S. military, officials said.

National security adviser Stephen J. Hadley said Lute raised his concerns during talks before his selection. "He had the same skepticism a lot of us had," Hadley said. "That's one of the reasons we designed the strategy the way we did." By joining the White House, Hadley said, Lute can ensure that the economic and political elements of the plan are implemented. "In some sense, he's part of the cure for the problems he was concerned about."

Until Bush decided this spring to create the position, the highest-ranking White House official working exclusively on Iraq and Afghanistan was a deputy national security adviser reporting to Hadley. Lute, by contrast, will have the rank of assistant to the president, just as Hadley does, and report directly to Bush, while also holding the title of deputy national security adviser.

The new war czar will consult with generals and diplomats in the field each morning, then join Hadley in briefing Bush and spend the rest of the day talking with officials such as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to resolve any issues. "The goal is same-day service -- identify the problem in the morning and fix it in the afternoon," Hadley said. Unlike an earlier version of the plan, Hadley said, Lute will oversee both policy and implementation, assisted by a staff of 11.

The position does not require congressional approval, but Lute will need Senate approval because he is an active-duty officer. Hadley said he is not concerned that a three-star officer will be directing superiors. "The issue is not the number of stars," he said.

Some Iraq experts were encouraged. "This is an unusually talented guy," said Ellen Laipson, president of the Henry L. Stimson Center, who returned from Iraq yesterday. "He's one of those intellectual soldiers who also exudes strong personal leadership qualities."

Yet Lute will face enormous obstacles four years into the war. "The most serious problem everyone has in any coordinated approach to Iraq is that the problems are beyond his control -- including relations between the White House and Congress," said Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "He is also a coordinator who works for a White House that has no long-term plan or strategy."

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